Unreliable boyfriends and other dreadful political metaphors

Does Ed Miliband really have a mummy problem?

Share

The Bank of England has been accused of acting like an “unreliable boyfriend” over its position on interest rate rises.

As MPs took evidence yesterday on the Bank’s May 2014 inflation report, Labour MP Pat McFadden said that businesses and consumers had been “left not really knowing where they stand” due to the Bank’s failure to be clear over when it will raise interest rates, and that the bank was sending “a lot of different signals.”

This is a serious issue, but why did Mr McFadden feel the need to employ such a dreadful metaphor?

Metaphors can be very effective when used properly, and yet they rarely are. Politics is especially rife with weak metaphors and irritating similes. I list here some of the most common:

You have a ‘mummy problem’

Ed Miliband has a ‘mummy problem’, meaning he scores well with the pubic on warmth and cuddliness but badly on power. Conversely, the Tories have a ‘daddy problem’. For all their toughness they risk coming across as downright nasty. Pappa Cameron is seen as firm, but people worry his government is too mean to the poor. People still view the Conservatives as ‘the nasty party’ – a habitual problem facing right-wing parties, who tend to prioritise being tough about things ahead of being correct about them.

What mummy and daddy really need to do is get together - i.e. a candidate needs to display both compassion and strong leadership. Alternatively, commentators need to stop using this creepy metaphor. You don’t have a ‘daddy problem’; you’re just not a very nice person. You don’t have a ‘mommy problem’, you just aren’t leadership material.

Public debt is ‘like a household credit card bill’

Proponents of austerity have used this argument a great deal in recent years. In comparing public debt to a swollen household credit card bill, the intention has been tried to frighten people into believing that if Britain keeps on spending it will be overwhelmed with a tide of interest payments and will as a result go bankrupt.

Not only is this an annoying metaphor, but it’s also a spurious comparison. Unlike an irresponsible person racking up debt on a credit card, government borrowing can have a positive effect on growth which in turn can reduce public debt. When the government borrows money it invests in projects which stimulate the economy. Conversely, blowing huge sums of money on a credit card knowing that you won’t be able to pay the interest back has no upside, apart from the temporary buzz you get from wearing the latest fashionable clothes. So no, public debt is nothing like a household credit card bill.

Escalate/de-escalate

The word escalate is derived from a word meaning a ladder outside of a house, yet it is most commonly used in reference to war. An armed man shoots a combatant in the back of the head and he has simply ‘escalated’. A nation’s army pulls out of some disputed territory and all they have done is ‘de-escalated’. Conflict brings out the worst in language, with politicians endlessly sermonising over ‘boots on the ground’, ‘blood and treasure’ and ‘collateral damage’.

When a politician says a situation has ‘escalated’, what they are actually trying to tell you is that someone somewhere has issued an order for a human being to be murdered.

Anything to do with sport

As we get closer to the General Election it won’t be plain sailing for the Prime Minister and his backbenchers. Indeed, keeping his increasingly restless MPs quiet will be a whole new ballgame for David Cameron, who in other respects is in pole position to come out on top next May. Putting a ballpark estimate on the number of Tory rebellions isn’t possible of course, but there is a risk that, as we approach the election, Cameron could take his eye off the ball and end up tussling with the very people he needs in his corner the most. 

Whatever you do, don't do this.

And my favourite good bad metaphors

“A sugar-coated Satan sandwich” - Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver's description of a proposed 2011 debt deal.

“And the Tea Party hobbits could return to middle earth having defeated Mordor” - Republic Senator John McCain pretending he’s in the Lord of the Rings.

“A family with the wrong members in control; that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase” - George Orwell in the Lion and the Unicorn.

Calls for a “new captain” were unnecessary because “it wasn't the captain that sank the Titanic - a ship they claimed was unsinkable - it was the iceberg. The best way to avoid disaster is to manage your way around the problem” - John Prescott in 2008 on why Gordon Brown shouldn't resign as Prime Minister.

I would be grateful if you could send me any others that are in common use that I have missed.

READ NEXT:
The morning catch-up: Obama's ratings, Ryanair HQ and tennis themed puns
Andy Coulson profile: The consummate tabloid hack who went too far
After Coulson, now is the time for robust self-regulation along Leveson lines  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test